Commentary: In homage to those who served


By John KrullJohn-Krull-column-mug-320x400

They stand, one by one, as their names and ranks are called, old warriors at home in the embrace of family.

The old warriors, my father among them, listen as the school’s head recites their years of service. For many of them, time has left its marks. Their faces are etched with lines and their hair is a thin gray going to silver. Their postures are a little more stooped. Their gaits can be unsteady when they walk.

Commentary button in JPG – no shadowIn some cases, it has been nearly 70 years since they first heard the bugle’s call.

They are back now to pay their respects both to fallen comrades and to family.

Each year at my son’s school the sixth grade has a Memorial Day program at which the school honors both the alumni who lost their lives in this country’s service and the service of grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins of current students.

The program begins with instrumental versions of patriotic songs, then a call of the roll when the aged veterans stand to be recognized. As each name is called, the veteran and the sixth-grader to whom the veteran is related stand.

When the last name is read, the applause that sweeps the auditorium is prolonged, emphatic and heartfelt.

As the crowd claps for them, my father and the other veterans stand with their heads bowed. As applause pounds on, my son stares at his grandfather, his eyes wide with wonder.

From there, the program moves to first a recitation of the poem “In Flanders Field” and then a version set to music, with the sweet voices of the sixth-grade choir adding poignancy to the lyrics:

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

For much of the song, my father keeps his eyes locked upon his grandson, who sings from the back row. As the song reaches its end, Dad bows his head once more.

Dad enlisted in the U.S. Army at the end of World War II. He was in the Engineer Corps and spent the bulk of his time in service in the Aleutian Islands. He didn’t fight Nazis, the Italians or the Japanese, but rather boredom, confusion and loneliness.

We tend to sentimentalize the experiences of the Americans who grew up in my father’s era by calling them “the greatest generation” – as if we can minimize the disruption war and other hardships brought to their lives by saying something nice about them. It is as if by calling them great we can pretend they didn’t feel frightened or desperate or depressed when they were pulled away from family and friends and sent off to serve with the uneasy knowledge that they might not come back.

I have a photo of my father when he first entered the army, when he was just a few years older than my son is now. In the picture, Dan looks young, fit, innocent – and so much like my son that it both bewilders me and breaks my heart.

I look at my young son, whose life’s focus now is on playing as much baseball as he can with his friends – a passion he shares with his grandfather – and I wonder what it cost my Dad to go away as he did.

And I wonder what it cost so many others who went away and did not come home.

The sweet voices sing and recite, each word a tribute to sacrifice, and at the end the sixth grade class thanks the veterans who are their grandparents, parents and relatives for serving.

And as that thanks is offered, a single word is thought but not spoken by the others in attendance.


John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.